VANCOUVER – The government of Eritrea has condemned Canada’s decision to expel its consul general.
A statement from the country’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs equates the move to bullying.
“[Eritrea] considers the expulsion as an unwarranted escalation of the Canadian administration’s hostility to Eritrea and its harassment of the Eritrean Diaspora community.”
The statement calls claims the consul is using intimidation to force Eritreans living in Canada to pay taxes, to support the regime and its military, an “unwarranted escalation of the Canadian administration’s hostility to Eritrea.”
Foreign Affairs Minister Baird called Consul General Semere Ghebremarian O. Micael “persona non grata” and gave him until 12 p.m. ET on June 5 to leave the country.
Baird would not confirm the reasons behind the expulsion, saying it was a legal matter. But, his department had previously warned the consulate about using forms of harassment and coercion to force Eritreans in Canada to pay what the United Nations calls a “diaspora tax.”
But some people in the Eritrean-Canadian community say the two per cent income tax, charged for consular services, is an optional fee and not illegal.
Yonas Tesfay, executive director of Canadian Eritrean Communities and Organizations (CECCO), said there is nothing wrong with a foreign mission charging a fee that goes toward a country’s “development goals” and it’s something many other countries do.
He said CECCO was formed in the wake of allegations against the consulate, within the last year, to speak on behalf of “the 30,000 Canadians of Eritrean decent.”
Tesfay, who has dual citizenship, said the expulsion is based on “misconceptions” about the Eritrean community being “victims of the consulate.”
He also said despite what other Eritrean community groups say, no one is forced to pay that fee to obtain services. Tesfay said he has gone back and forth between Eritrea and has never actually paid the two per cent tax.
“I think over the past year, people have created this conception that they are supporting terrorism or something illegal by giving two percent and/or that we are living in fear of our consulate. None of these [allegations] are truthful and they’re without merit,” Tesfay said in a phone interview from Toronto.
“In 22 years, there has never been any issues that we know of, up until of course the last year when people started coming forward with allegations,” he said.
Tesfay said he couldn’t speak to Baird’s decision to expel the Consul General, pointing out the minister did not give a clear reason for the move. But, he said people that have complained of threats are doing so out of their own political motivations.
Baird said on Wednesday Micael’s actions were “inconsistent” with his diplomatic duties.
The Eritrean government has, in the past, been accused of creating instability in the Horn of Africa region and of providing support to al-Qaeda and Somalia’s al-Shabaab.
UN Security Council Resolution 2023 (2011) called on the Eritrean government to “cease using threats of violence, fraud and other illicit means to collect taxes outside of Eritrea.”
Human Rights Watch considers the 20-year regime of President Isaias Afwerki “one of the world’s most oppressive governments.”
In a 2012 report, it said Eritreans are faced with numerous human rights abuses including torture, restriction on freedom of speech, indefinite conscription, and arbitrary and indefinite detention.
*With files from Postmedia News